By: Jill Topp

I was diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease after my second child was born, in 2006. I went on Weight Watchers to lose the baby weight, was breastfeeding, and I could not, for the life of me, understand why I was losing my baby weight so quickly and easily.

Since my diagnosis, I have been on a strict gluten free diet. At first, I cried a lot and mourned the loss of myself, the one who was free to choose anything she wanted to eat, the one who did not have to plan, and the one who ate anywhere she pleased. I could not imagine a life without fast food and bakeries. How would I be able to go anywhere without feeling nervous about what I put inside of my mouth? I felt left out, like I was outside of a fish bowl looking in. Here in Vancouver, things are always behind other big cities. The products available to me in 2006 were more limited and not many things were available in regular stores. I am not a baker, so I had to plan special trips to the city to buy bread, which was not exactly like the bread I was used to eating. This was not an easy feat with two small children and work. I saw a nutritionist, who educated me about how to buy gluten free and live a gluten free life, and I felt like walls were closing in on me. It took me a long time to adjust to my new life.

Currently, I find that while living completely gluten free is no walk in the park, it is not intolerable. I definitely need to be organized and plan ahead, and I cannot eat just anywhere. Pub food, cheap restaurants where food is pre-packaged and fast food are typically out, unless the people really know what is in their food. Packaging of products nowadays has changed for many goods and the number of items available to me in regular stores has increased markedly. I still am waiting for the day when ALL packaging states exactly what is in the food, and when I can go into any restaurant and order as easily as the next person. I am also thrilled to say that a number of restaurants have gluten free menus!

While my culinary life is not as easy as it once was, I have learned to live with this disease and still manage to eat out in restaurants and at friend’s homes.

The following are some great tips for Celiacs on how to be successful gluten free eaters.

1. Always read labels at stores and in restaurants, when available. If packaged foods say wheat, oat, barley, rye, Worcestershire Sauce, Teriyaki Sauce, Soy Sauce and even corn starch or modified corn starch, or if it says made in a facility that process wheat, you should stay away.
2. Beware of cheap spices. Find out what spices in your neck of the woods are clean and not contaminated.
3. Get squeeze bottle condiments (e.g., mustard, ketchup, relish, and mayonnaise), as this will avoid cross contamination.
4. Keep a separate butter or margarine and peanut butter and write on the top “gluten free”, so that family members will remember not to double dip and contaminate them.
5. If you get contaminated, try to be strict about your gluten free diet for quite some time afterwards. Also, some of you may want to lay off of dairy too. I find I become lactose intolerant when I am severely contaminated for a few weeks.
6. Create business cards with a list of the items you cannot eat and keep them with you in your purse or wallet. When you go to a restaurant, look at possible items to eat, and then when ordering, just tell the server that you are thinking of having a particular item, but cannot have the items on your list. I cannot tell you how many times a server has thanked me.
7. When eating at a friend’s or going to a catered event, call ahead to discuss the menu and the items you cannot eat or to arrange for something to be prepared for you. There is nothing worse than attending a party and watching others eat while you starve.
8. If attending a buffet, always offer to bring a main dish. I usually bring something like a gluten free lasagne. It tastes the same as regular, so all can enjoy it. Someone always brings a salad or cut veggies and fruit, so your meal will be complete and worry free.
9. When staying with family or friends, it is wise to notify your host ahead of time of items they should stock for you. You may want to suggest things like a fresh stick of butter that is labelled for you, so that others do not double dip. I usually bring a loaf of bread, spices and some cereal for myself for the first morning’s breakfast and shop a little when I get there. I typically buy a small peanut butter for those quick lunches on the go. When travelling, it is not always possible to find gluten free if eating fast food, so I do not starve.
10. I pack my own food for travel days on airplanes. Airports are not known for gluten free cuisine.
11. REALLY educate those living with you about how to respect your needs and to avoid contaminating products. Let them know that if they contaminate something that you need to be told so that you do not get sick.

Living completely gluten free is not so tough, but it truly is a different life. If I can do it, so can you!!! Bon appetite.